What potential research participants want to know about research: a systematic review

Helen Michelle Kirkby, Melanie Calvert, Heather Draper, Thomas Keeley, Sue Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
459 Downloads (Pure)


Objective To establish the empirical evidence base for the information that participants want to know about medical research and to assess how this relates to current guidance from the National Research Ethics Service (NRES).

Data sources Medline, Web of Science, Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts, Sociological abstracts, Health Management Information Consortium, Cochrane Library, thesis index's, grey literature databases, reference and cited article lists, key journals, Google Scholar and correspondence with expert authors.

Study selection Original research studies published between 1950 and October 2010 that asked potential participants to indicate how much or what types of information they wanted to be told about a research study or asked them to rate the importance of a specific piece of information were included.

Study appraisal and synthesis methods Studies were appraised based on the generalisability of results to the UK potential research participant population. A metadata analysis using basic thematic analysis was used to split results from papers into themes based on the sections of information that NRES recommends should be included in a participant information sheet.

Results 14 studies were included. Of the 20 pieces of information that NRES recommend should be included in patient information sheets for research pooled proportions could be calculated for seven themes. Results showed that potential participants wanted to be offered information about result dissemination (91% (95% CI 85% to 95%)), investigator conflicts of interest (48% (95% CI 27% to 69%)), the purpose of the study (76% (95% CI 27% to 100%)), voluntariness (39% (95% CI 2% to 100%)), how long the research would last (61% (95% CI 16% to 97%)), potential benefits (57% (95% CI 7% to 98%)) and confidentiality (44% (95% CI 10% to 82%)). The level of detail participants wanted to know was not explored comprehensively in the studies. There was no empirical evidence to support the level of information provision required by participants on the remaining seven items.

Conclusions There is limited empirical evidence on what potential participants want to know about research. The existing empirical evidence suggests that individuals may have very different needs and a more tailored evidence-based approach may be necessary.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere000509
Number of pages15
JournalBMJ open
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 30 May 2012


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